Monday, May 11, 2009

2008/09 End of Season Report.

Another season in the desert has come and gone. We can all be proud of what has been accomplished this year, and our Spring Meet over the weekend of May 2nd-3rd was our best ever. We are finally through the Rock Cut, our railway has been expanded significantly thanks to Brendon Hilton and his track crew, and the turntable is painfully close to being functional thanks to Ken Eells, Mike and Josh Brehm, Bill Souder and a host of others. The picnic shelter now has power provided by Bill Shepherd. Thanks again Bill!

Through the cut during the Spring Meet.

Ken Eells punches tickets while Mike Brehm attends to the Shay.

The Spring Meet on the Grand Scale was well attended. We were once again joined by Rita Allan's Girl Scout troop, as well as noted magazine publisher John Sayre, whose publication, Large-Scale Railroading has featured the JT&S Grand Scale Railway in past issues. Our Shay #6 ran all day Saturday, a few minor problems cropped up, but they will be easily repaired in the Fall. Such is the way with steam. The traditional beer-brat dinner feast was well recieved. In fact I was lucky to get a couple before they were all scarfed down!

Brendon Hilton brings the train out of the Rock Cut.

I would like to think that the Grand Scale is just now hitting it's stride, and I am sure much more will be accomplished next season and in subsequent seasons. I wish to thank Tom Arnold for his patience and support, was well as everyone who has encouraged me these past ten years, especially in the early days when progress was slow. With the momentum that has built up, and the capable bunch of guys now dedicated to building this diminutive railway, things can only get bigger and better. Thanks also to my wife Rita who has been the most patient of all. This has been a truly unique experience. We have taken an abandoned railway in the middle of nowhere and turned it into what it is today, through no small effort I might add.
That's about it, I'm outta here. The Grand Scale is adjourned for the season. Have a great summer and stay safe. - Chris Allan

One ticket to the end of the line.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April work day report.

The seasonal winds blew with gusto all last week, and we were anticipating the same for Saturday April 4th. Happily there was only a light breeze during the morning and relative calm prevailed during the afternoon and evening.
Those in attendance accomplished a great deal. Mike and Josh ably bolted down the turntable deck and end timbers. Kevin and I moved several yards of ballast material over to the turntable lead, and while a lot more needs to be added, we definitely made a dent. I raised a pretty good blister in the palm of my right hand, which is now reminiscent of a stigmata effect.
Ken and Dick built a loading platform next to the newly named station stop of "Split Rock" (thanks Liza!); it is evocative of one of the little team track docks on the old Carson & Colorado narrow gauge in the Owens Valley of California. The dock, built of recycled materials, has both form and function and is a welcome addition to the loop area's theming. Some grounds cleanup was also performed. A great deal more needs to be done.
Remember the date, Saturday, May 2nd is our annual Grand Scale get-together. Please let me know if you are planning on joining us for the evening brat-fest, so we don't run short. Bring a small appetizer or salad if you wish to throw into the fray. Just like last year, alcoholic beverages will be curtailed until after 5pm., unless you plan to be running the locomotive then alcohol is prohibited - no exceptions. We will again be joined this year by Rita Allan's Girl Scout troop, a fun bunch.
Have a joyous Easter, I look forward to seeing all of you for our season ender! - Chris

Thanks for the pictures Ken!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring has arrived.

Hello everyone, hope that you are enjoying the first signs of Spring now that it has officially arrived. Our next workday on the Grand Scale will be Saturday, April 4th. The project in the forefront should be cleanup of the area for our meet in May, as we will be hosting many new people, and we need to make a good first impression.We will also be working to make the turntable functional for the May meet. Ken Eells has been up working a couple of days each week on the pit rock work and filling and contouring the pit to conceal the concrete work. We may start laying down the loop rail during the meet, which would be a great demonstration for our visitors.

In addition, here is what we need to accomplish in the short term, and continue after the Summer break:

  • Cleanup of the "Boneyard" area, including moving the sand house back up into place, sorting and piling the rail, either down there or staging it up above to go across the bridge, and moving the tie piles back up next to live rail.

  • Get the speeder functional, which can be done at Brendon's over the summer.

  • Get some wheels back under the ballast car, which can also be done over the break.

  • Get the track that we have down ballasted, lined and tamped.

  • Weld on the steel walkways onto each side of the bridge, which we will hopefully convince Roger to do in the Fall. ;)

  • Re-stake the centerlines for the Mule's Relief fill on the west side, Rick can help us to remember where the current buried stakes are.

  • Re-contour the area in the wash and terraform to get rid of the "construction zone" look. Remove the road up to the loop, and replace it with an unobtrusive footpath.

We need to have the majority of these projects complete before we move on to the next "big" project, whatever that may be. Working as a team, most of the above projects can be done in a couple of weekends, so they shouldn't affect our Manifest Destiny too terribly.

Have a great week, and I hope to see you on the 4th! - Chris

Pic by Bill Souder

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March workday report.

Ken Eells poses with the turntable, note the first lead reached the pit wall during the March workday.Thanks to everyone who pitched in on the project, including Ken, Mike, Joseph, Bill, Tom, Paul, and Brendon. The next workday, April 4th we will ballast tamp and line. With some luck we will be turning by the May meet.- Chris

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More turntable progress.

Yesterday, February 25th, Ken Eells and I traveled to Joshua Tree for a day of work on the turntable. We were joined by the ever-affable Bill Souder. The modified overhead trolley wheels donated by Mike Brehm were welded into place and a start was made on the deck. Treated 4x4's were placed and 2x6 planks were screwed down as edging to hold the bridge timbers in orientation. Two handy sticks of rail were thrown on for demonstration purposes. It now has the look of a proper turntable. Thanks to Ken and Bill for their excellent efforts!

The weather was gorgeous, as it can be this time of year. A bit of wind kicked up later in the day but didn't hinder our efforts. We stopped into Don Jose's in Anahiem Hills on the way home for our evening meal, which topped off our productive day.

Our next workday is coming up on Saturday, March 7th. I would like to continue tuning up the turntable, as well as work on the lead track coming into it. Remember to save the date, May 2nd, which is our big annual meet on the 15" gauge. With a little luck we may be able to debut the turntable then! If enough people show up we can also start putting the Shay back together now that the hard freezes are over. Work on the balloon track through the cut can also progress when ready.

Until then, be safe and I hope to see you all in the desert soon!
- Chris Allan

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Cold February Day.

Saturday February 7th was cold at Joshua Tree, thankfully the fire built in the Franklin stove at the Pullman picnic shelter was enough to stave off any minor discomfort. More was accomplished on the structure thanks to Bill Souder, Mike and Joseph Brehm, Rita Allan (who lit the fire) and Tom Arnold. The north wall is now sheeted, and the refrigerator is up on the slab poured by Bill Shepherd (Thanks Bill!). The sheeting generously procured by Eric Bauer is being put to good use.

Ken and Mike worked on getting the turntable end wheel assemblies fitted in preparation for attaching the wheels provided by Mike. Tom Arnold rigged up power for my wire feed welder (Thanks again Tom!) and the assemblies were tacked in place. A bit more work remains before the table is wheeled, but we are getting close! Ken and Judy Eells managed to make it up despite having to move out of their house the week before, as well as Judy having just been through throat surgery. We applaud their efforts during these adverse times, and wish Judy a speedy recovery.

Tom, Brendan, and Robert continued grading for the balloon loop using a tractor provided by Robert. They also hauled some rock down to the mini-train loop for, I would assume, retaining walls. The little puttering carts full of material popped up and down the hill all day.

Several esteemed guests dropped by to view our collection of railcars, including Nick Kallas, General Manager for the Illinois Railway Museum, the largest and most diverse railway museum in North America. Nick and I have crossed paths a few times over the past 25 years, and it was a pleasure catching up and comparing notes on our museum preservation efforts.

A friendly contingent from the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum stopped in, led by their president, Diana Hyatt. They toured our railcars and we spent some time getting to know each other. If you have the chance to get down to Campo, near San Diego, don't miss a visit to their railroad museum, and even better yet take one of their trains to Tecate, Mexico. It is, I am told, a rather unique experience not to be missed. I hope to do this with the family in the near future.

We will be back out for the workday on March 7th, 2009. I look forward to seeing all of you then! - Chris Allan

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Turntable "Themed" Report.

Today's post is from our intrepid Roundhouse Foreman and designer Ken Eells. Ken's report brings us up to date on turntable progress and plans. -Chris

15” Gauge Turntable Report Part II

First of all allow me to express my gratitude to everyone who has commented on how nice the rockwork on the turntable pit wall is looking so far. That part of the project is about halfway done and thanks to the excavation crew on the Cut, we are using some very nice bluish rock material that they “dug” up.

Thankfully, we have definitely turned a corner with the turntable and are getting set up for a huge February 7th assault with Chris’ wire-feed welder. The turntable crew will be welding on the “training wheel” assemblies, 4 X 4 steel crossties and if time allows, they will be welding down the 12# rail.

From that point forward, I will be directing the theming aspect of the turntable which will impart that nice rich rusty, crusty, aged and grained look that the Rio Grande Southern railroad was so very famous for. It will be a thing of beauty.

Our current construction schedule has us completing Track-4 (inbound track) up to the turntable by early April. That gives us plenty of “tweaking time” before the May Spring Meet in order to make certain that railroad operations are both safe and successful.

From there we will be spring-boarding off of the turntable and onto the roundhouse. By that I mean that we be building from the success of the turntable and step up the call for donations in order to get the wood framing going on the roundhouse by November ’09. Our initial goal is to put together an amount of $10,000 to get things started with, but more on that later.

In the meantime, we will finish up the turntable for this season which will definitely put a new spin on things for the 15” gauge railway. -Ken Eells

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Railroading- a dirty business.

Yesterday, Saturday January 10th, 2009 saw another great effort by Brendon Hilton and the grading crew. Several more dump truck loads of rock were removed from "The Cut". There is every indication that we may see track laid through it soon. Brendon writes:

"Our work day yesterday was another big step forward on the cut project. A big thank you to the team. Mike, Robert, Tom, Lars, Eric, and Jon spent the day drilling, hammering, and mucking. It was great that the Tolins had mucked out the previous shot, so we were able to get right to work with the air tools. The results were impressive. Sunday morning, Mike, Dad, and I filled about 20 holes with Dexpan and it could be the last shot. We might need one more drilling session for clean up, but we're there! The dump truck fits through now, so everything else is just gravy."

Click for a Slideshow from Jan 10th.

Rita and I worked on the Pullman picnic shelter. Some of the siding generously donated by Eric Bauer was put up on the north side. More will go up next month.

In the meantime, please enjoy this account of life on the railroad in Ridgway, Colorado back in the day, taken from the Ouray News of January 7th, 2009. This account features the historic facility we are emulating for our Joshua Tree Grand Scale Railway, being built under the direction of our own Ken Eells. - Chris

Coal-darkened tickets tell dark side of railroading

They are more than 85 years old, but when you sort through them your fingertips turn black.

Some are coal tickets with lingering coal dust that were filled out by engineers on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad after having their tenders filled with coal. Others are dark lubricant-smeared oil tickets from the Ridgway trainyard.

Archived at the Ridgway Railroad Museum are Ridgway, Vance Junction, Rico and Ute Junction coal tickets from March 1920 and oil tickets from October 1916.They are part of the materials rescued by Bob Richardson, founder of the Colorado Railroad Museum and saved by Ridgway resident Smiles Dunn until the Ridgway Railroad Museum was established.

Coal was mined near Ute Junction. It was loaded into gondolas (cars open at the top) and transported by rail to loading facilities. At Vance Junction the coal was transferred to coal chutes, but at Ridgway the gondolas were stored until the coal was used.

The Ridgway roundhouse, where repairs and mechanical work were done, was located to the south of what is now Mountain Market, approximately where the hardware store sits. The coaling area was slightly beyond that, just east of the present Drakes Restaurant.

Even something as simple as a coal ticket has a story. Experienced and long-time RGS engineers signed-off on the coal tickets at Ridgway – names like Ervin, McDonald, Talbert, Phillips and Davies. According to Josie Crum in her book, "The Rio Grande Southern Railroad," Ervin and Talbert had been part of a three-engine pile-up in 1909. Davies had ended up in the bottom of a gorge by the Butterfly Mill under bridge debris after an engine derailed in 1910.

Engines leaving Ridgway needed to have full tenders to make the long climb over Dallas Divide and on to Vance Junction or Rico. The tickets showed that loaded coal ranged from one to five tons with most tenders taking on three tons.

In Ridgway, a gondola loaded with coal was placed on a raised track. The engine and tender were pulled parallel to the gondola on a slightly lower track. Coal needed to be shoveled up over the sides of the gondolas and into waiting tenders.

"Coal heavers" not only suffered from aching backs, but clenched fingers as well. Old timers told stories of fingers that cramped around the handles of shovels after hours of labor. At the end of the day, the fingers remained clenched and had to be pried open. Heavers were at the bottom of the pay scale were paid, in 1917, only 10 cents per ton of coal shoveled!

There were many jobs on the railroad that required manual labor, but in my view this was the hardest, with the worst rate of pay. Yet, tons of coal were shoveled daily to provide the energy for the RGS steam engines.

Vance Junction was a major coal loading facility. Handling large amounts of tonnage created a paper problem. RGS Employees frequently ran out of coal tickets. Oil tickets were substituted with the word "oil" crossed out and the word "coal" penciled in. The gravity-fed coal chutes, seven miles southwest of Telluride, can still be seen today.

A. Nordeen signed each oil ticket at the Ridgway shop. The tickets show which engine was serviced and its destination. Generally, 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 pints of valve oil and 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 pints of car oil were required.

Occasionally, cotton waste was also requested. Some oil tickets were for replacement of shop supplies as was the case on Oct. 3, 1916, when 16 pints of headlight oil was ordered. The coal and oil tickets also speak to the economic state of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. Each one is imprinted with the words "Denver and Rio Grande Railroad." By 1916, the RGS was in receivership and under control of the D&RG. RGS forms were frequently "borrowed" from the larger railroad.

The archived tickets may be gritty and smeared, but they provide an interesting look at the heart of the Rio Grande Southern – and its day-to-day operation.